London: To-be-moms please take note: Women who have a varied diet during pregnancy may be less likely to have a child who is a fussy eater, a new study has found.

A decade-long research by French scientists found that the smells and tastes that babies are exposed to in their first few weeks and months of life is associated with the foods and scents they grow to like.

In some cases, babies appear to get a taste for the foods their mothers eat in the womb, the researchers said.

"During pregnancy the womb is relatively permeable and what the mother takes in goes in a certain dose to the foetus during a time when the brain is being formed, probably with long-term consequences," lead researcher Dr Benoist Schaal of Bourgogne University in Dijon was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

In one experiment, Dr Schaal and his team gave some women aniseed-flavoured sweets and biscuits to eat in the last few days of pregnancy, while others ate their usual foods.

Once their babies were born, the scent of aniseed was wafted past their faces. Those who had tasted or smelt aniseed in the womb turned towards it and seemed to smile, said the researchers who presented their finding at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The experiment did not go on to check whether the babies liked the taste of aniseed, as well as the smell. But as scent is a major contributor to our sense of taste, this is likely, said the researcher.

Other experiments showed babies to react positively to smells, from carrots to garlic, if they have first sniffed them before birth.

But the effect may not always be beneficial to health, with a taste for cigarettes and alcohol perhaps also being se early in life -- an Argentinian study recently showed that babies whose mothers drank during pregnancy licked their lips at the scent of alcohol. The researchers also found that the period during which a baby is weaned on to solid foods may also influence the child's tastes in later life.

Dr Schaal's team fed six-month-old babies boring or mixed diets and then looked at how they reacted to being given a new food.

For example, one group of babies was given pureed carrots to eat for ten days. Another was given carrots for a day, then a day of artichoke and a day of green beans, before starting back on the carrots again.

They were then tested on new tastes such as pureed fish, ham or peas. Those weaned on a varied diet gulped down the new foods, unlike those who were only used to carrots.

Other research has also shown that the tastes we develop as babies can stay with us for decades.

Dr Schaal said it is possible that eating a varied diet in pregnancy could cut the odds of the baby being a picky eater and added that health policies on improving diet should focus on the start of life.